Monday, July 11, 2011

In Reply to Shawn re. e-books and self-publishing

The following began as a reply to Shawn Enderlin's comment on Eleanor's post re. e-publishing. Mine got long enough that a full post seemed appropriate....

I see you point Shawn, but I think the sky isn't going to be falling quite so fast or completely as some people are claiming. E-books are taking up a larger share of the market, but the number of people with e-readers is still a smaller percentage of the overall reading public. This, too, will change, but I don't see it becoming an all-or-nothing situation, as is so often seems to be painted by some e-advocates.

Too often, I think people forget the essential privileged status of the e-reader user. People who either choose not to use, or cannot afford, electronic readers/smart phones/tablets will still need a reading medium, as will many libraries and other markets. POD (print on demand) could help satisfy some of this, but that assumes either an awareness or an accessibility by the general reading public that isn't a guaranteed constant. In short, there will still be a need to more traditional, or traditional-like, distribution channels for a long time. The need may shrink, or alter, of the like, but it will be there.

By its very nature, one of the challenges of self-publishing is the exact thing you mention: distribution (in terms of people seeing your title in various locales). Yes, there are examples of people making money by self-pubbed books, but these still tend to be the notable exceptions. When you look at the vast raft of self-pubbed e-books out there, the trick is not being a success, but even getting noticed. Admittedly, this is also a problem for traditional print authors as well. I point this out not as a dig at self-pubbing, but rather because, in the case of e-pubbing, I see it too often brushed over with the "the reader will will find you if the book is good enough" placebo. That is true of either medium, and you can find examples of authors on this very blog who could tell you about the challenges of being "found" in a narrower pool (paper book) than you are looking at in the e-end. Going kindle isn't going to solve the fundamental challenge of being picked up by a reader.

I don't dismiss the power and potential of e-books and self-pubbing, but I also don't think it is the high-holy that its strongest advocated are painting it to be, either. Traditional publishing is going to have to change, and it may be ugly for a while; but I think there is still a basic enough desire and need for the services and products they provide that people shouldn't be writing them off without doing their own homework first (as you seem to have done), rather than simply following the band leader of choice (which I have seen others do).

At base, publishing is a business: deciding whether you want to sign on with a firm (traditional publishing) or have your own start-up (self-publishing) deserves just as much thought and research as starting a brick and mortar establishment in some ways. Each brings benefits and challenges, and neither is the end-all, be-all at this point in time; nor will they be for some time to come, IMO.

1 comment:

Shawn Enderlin said...

Doug, you make some great points and I once again find myself in the “I can't really argue with any of that” category.

As you say, the sky isn't falling, at least not yet. But will it? It seems well within the realm of possibility. When it might collapse is an even murkier and (at least for me) more frustrating question.

Take where I'm at today. I'm probably about nine months away from taking the plunge, assuming my beta draft readers don't unanimously hate my WIP. Say I self publish. If I do that, I don't have to worry about whether or not bookshelves will exist, plus I immediately start earning at a rate that will beat any contract I could get today. Yes, that's predicated on selling but I think that discussion is a different post ;-)

Contrast that with going the traditional route and shopping for an agent. Say that goes really well and that my agent finds a publisher in short order. That means, best case, I'll be ready to sign a contract in 1 1/2 years and a my book will be on shelves in 2 1/2 years.

Is it worth waiting all that extra time? Is it worth giving up that income and assuming the risk of whether or not Barnes & Noble will still exist? I want to say it is, because I’m keenly aware of how much a publisher will do for me, but the pessimist in me is pretty freaked out about being stuck in a situation where A) I am unable to earn out my advance, and/or B) find myself saddled with a dead end contract that ties up my rights for years.

So what's the right answer? I don't honestly know. As you pointed out, the industry is going to have to change. Royalties will have to go up. E-book prices will have to go down. There will be more competition from places like Amazon, Google, and who knows how many agencies who turn themselves into publishers. I can even see locally based groups of authors organizing into publishing collectives, pooling their talents and collaborating on everything from editing to marketing.

There's really only one thing I know for certain: things are going to get interesting.

That, and I’m REALLY glad I’m still nine months away from having to make this decision. :-)